International Dialling

The 411 on how to place a phone call internationally

Many of us remember the days when a whole family only had one phone number, and you simply needed to pick up a phone and dial seven digits. But with the increased number of phone numbers, and more international travel than ever before, the simplicity of the seven-digit phone number has disappeared. Here is an attempt to make a very clear explanation of how to make phone calls internationally.

Emergency Numbers

The first thing to know is that “911” is not universal. In fact, the Dutch version of the American series “Nanny 911” is called “Nanny 112”! It is always a very good idea to the local emergency number in countries you are visiting ahead of time.

Many cell phones will automatically have emergency numbers programed into them, and if you have a GSM phone and are buying local SIM cards in countries you are visiting, you will often find the emergency numbers magically appear in your phone book after inserting the local SIM card. Just make sure you know what “emergency” is in the local language, and you will often find the phone number.

It’s also important to know that many cell phones will allow you to make an emergency phone call regardless of whether your phone is locked, has the correct local SIM, is roaming, or has no SIM card in it. Just dial the emergency number and hit “send” and it will usually work.

Common emergency numbers around the world are:

  • 911 – the Americas
  • 112 – standard for GSM phones all over the world, as well as all European Union countries
  • 999 – common for a variety of countries all over the world, and sometimes for countries that also use “112” such as Ireland, the UK.

Local vs. International Phone Number

When traveling with your cell phone or smartphone, your home phone numbers will become “international”, and the phone numbers you are dialing within the country will become “local”. This means you cannot send texts to your family and friends back home without adding pre-fixes to the numbers you regularly call.

For example, if your home phone number is 555-5555, and you dial this from Amsterdam it will connect you to the local Dutch person who has the phone number 555-5555 (or, more likely, it will not work because an area code is required). To phone home, you will need to dial an international number (see below).

If you see a local number listed as (05) 555 5555, and you are in that local area, then you only need to dial 05 555 5555. If you want to phone the same number back home, you will need to add the international dial-out code, the country code, the area code, and then the phone number minus the first zero.

Dialing an International Phone Number

Different countries have different rules about how to make an international phone call, or even a phone call to a different area code within the country. And if you are traveling abroad and want to phone home, most of your common phone numbers are probably not saved with the international dial-out code, international code, and area code required to route the call.

As a general rule of thumb, phone numbers around the world are composed of the following:
[International dial-out code, or “+”] – [Country code] – [Area code, often 3 digits] – [Phone number, often 7 digits]

International code “+”

Most countries have a code which you use to indicate to the telephone company that you are placing an international phone call, followed by the country code of the place you are dialing. In North America, you dial “011”, whereas in most of the world you dial “00”.

When using your cell phone or smartphone, it’s simple: just place a “+” as the first digit of the phone number. This will automatically indicate that the first numbers to appear is the country code.

Tip: Save all of your phone numbers as “+” numbers and you won’t have to worry about the international dial-out code in each country.

Country Code

After the “+” sign, you will need to include the country code of the country the phone number is from. North America is “+1”, the UK is “+44”, Japan is “+81”, the United Arab Emirates is “+971”, etc.

Often times you will see a phone number written as “0044 614 555 5555” — where “00” is the same as “+”, indicating that “44” is the country code. You are better off using the “+” symbol instead though, because while it’s acceptable to dial “0044 614 5 555 5555” from France to phone the UK, from the US you would need to dial “01144 614 555 5555” to dial the UK. Using “+” automatically sets the international dial-out code everywhere in the world.

Tip: Go through your cell phone’s address book before you leave and save all your commonly placed phone numbers with the international digits. This way your phone will recognise the number if someone phones you or sends you a text while you’re abroad.

Area Code

Area codes are often indicated by either a single “0” in front of the area code, for example “0614”, or with parentheses “(614)”. Using parentheses is common in the Americas, while using a “0” is common in Europe. In many countries, cell phones will have one area code across the whole country, while landlines will have the local area code.

In 99% of countries around the world, you should drop the zero at the front of the area code when using the full international number. What this means is that:
0614 555 5555 in the UK (country code +44)

Would be saved in your phone as:

+44 614 555 5555

If you see a phone number written like this:

+44 (0) 614 555 5555

It means that if you’re calling with the international code, you should dial “+44 614 555 5555” — which you can do from your cell phone whether you’re in fact calling internationally or whether you’re in the country — OR you can dial “0614 555 5555” if you’re already in the country.

Tip: The simplest way is to just save all of your phone numbers using the full international number. That way, wherever you are in the world, it will automatically dial the correct number. With address books commonly just showing names and not focusing on individual phone numbers, it’s easy to forget to put all the required international digits in before you send that text to your Mom. Every world traveler has accidentally sent a text message to a local instead of back home!

Phone Number

Regular phone numbers are often 7 digits, but can vary all over the world. How do you know how many digits need to precede the number?

If you’re in the local area, then just dial the 7 digits without anything else. If it works, your problem is solved.

If it doesn’t work, check online or ask what the area code is. Add “0” – the area code – the phone number.

If it still doesn’t work, add “+” – country code – area code (without a “0” in front) – phone number.

It it still doesn’t work, then chances are the phone number already includes the area code, so just dial “0” – phone number.


All the phone numbers you commonly use around the world — including friends and family you anticipate phoning or texting while traveling — should be saved in the following format:

“+” [country code] [area code, without a “0” at the front if applicable] [phone number]

So, (614) 555-5555 in the US becomes:

+1 614 555 5555 or
+16145555555 or
+1 61 45 55 55 55

And 061 45 55 55 55 in the UK becomes:

+44 614 555 5555

And +33 (0) 614 55 55 555 in France becomes:

+33 614 555 5555

Tip: Spaces in phone numbers make no difference for most cell phones and smartphones. They just help you keep track when entering a phone number, but you can place them wherever you prefer or omit them all together.

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